NRC agrees to relax work-hour control regulations

March 29, 2020, 7:27AMNuclear News

On March 28, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission informed the industry via letter that nuclear plant operators can apply for 60-day exemptions from the agency’s work-hour control regulations—found in 10 CFR 26.205—to address workforce issues arising from the COVID-19 public health emergency. The pandemic has compelled some operators to limit the number of employees physically present at plants to “essential” personnel.

In the letter, Ho K. Nieh, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulation, stated, “The objective of the exemptions . . . is to ensure that the control of work hours and management of worker fatigue do not unduly limit licensee flexibility in using personnel resources to most effectively manage the impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency on maintaining the safe operation of these facilities.” Recipients of the letter included Jennifer Uhle, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s vice president of generation and suppliers; Chris Bakken, Entergy Nuclear’s chief nuclear officer; and Don Moul, Florida Power & Light Company’s CNO.

Licensees that have determined they can no longer comply with the work-hour regulations should notify the NRC in writing at least 24 hours before falling out of compliance, Nieh said. These notifications should include the following:

A statement that the licensee can no longer meet the work-hour controls of 10 CFR 26.205(d) for certain positions.

A list of positions for which the licensee will maintain current work-hour controls under 10 CFR 26.205(d)(1)-(d)(7).

The date and time when the licensee will begin implementing its site-specific COVID-19 fatigue-management controls for personnel specified in 10 CFR 26.4(a).

A statement that the licensee’s site-specific COVID-19 fatigue-management controls are consistent with the constraints outlined in Nieh’s letter and its attachment.

A statement that the licensee has established alternative controls for the management of fatigue during the period of the exemption.

According to the letter, the NRC will consider the requests on a case-by-case basis. “If the COVID-19 [emergency] condition does not improve before expiration of the exemption, then the NRC may consider an additional exemption period,” Nieh said, adding that should a further exemption be needed, licensees should request it before the end of the initial 60-day exemption period.

Further clarification

On April 2, the NRC hosted a teleconference on the letter that drew some 300 participants. Nieh stressed early on that any consideration of exempting a nuclear power plant operator from compliance with Part 26.205 would receive a thorough safety review. “We’ve already done that in several instances related to COVID-19 impacts, such as those concerning certain component inspections during plant outages,” Nieh said. “And in all of those cases, there were preapplication discussions with licensees in advance, followed by several days of technical review before a decision was made. In the case of work-hour requirements, we began thinking about how to approach this issue around the middle of March, and following the public meeting we had on March 20 . . . we have been working intently on developing an approach that culminated in the letter issued on March 28.”

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